Make sure your drinking water is safe
BY JENNIFER MOTL
Drinking water contaminated with lead can cause learning disabilities in kids. In adults, it can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, heart disease, gout, infertility and painful neuropathy.
“Children ages 6 and under are at the greatest risk,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid exposure to lead to protect their children.”
And since older children and adults aren’t routinely tested for lead poisoning, it may go undiagnosed in some cases.
If you have young children, consider asking their pediatrician to test their blood lead levels, or inquire at your local health department. The Virginia Department of Health recommends lead tests at ages 1 and 2 for all children living in the city of Fredericksburg, which is considered a “high-risk ZIP code” according to the department’s online guidelines.
And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Most U.S. children are at sufficient risk that they should have their blood lead concentration measured at least once,” regardless of where they live.
The academy cites data showing that a quarter of children’s homes have lead-contaminated paint, dust or soil.
Also, consider testing your water. The yearly consumer confidence report that your water utility sends out does not measure lead coming from your building’s pipes and faucets. Some hardware stores sell water-quality test kits. Or call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800/426-4791.
Although lead poisoning is diagnosed in just 1 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the effects can be devastating. And blood levels have to be very high for lead poisoning to be diagnosed.
But there’s some question whether so-called “normal” lead levels are safe. Today’s kids have lead levels 100 times higher than ancient children, according to a new report released by the CDC last month.
Water is just one of many sources of lead poisoning. Before 1978, paint contained lead, so older homes and buildings are the main source of lead poisoning. Paint chips off, turns to dust, and is inhaled or eaten by small children.
Soil near roadsides and driveways can be contaminated, too, from fumes from cars and trucks powered by leaded gasoline years ago. Lead persists in the environment for many years. Certain jobs expose workers to lead. For more info, try the National Lead Information Center at 800/424- 5323 or epa.gov/lead.
Lead gets into the water supply by leaching out of lead pipes. You may remember the scandal about lead poisoning in Washington in 2003 and 2010, when many city residents were told to buy bottled water.
Even though most cities and counties have replaced old water pipes made from lead, many homes built before 1986 contain pipes made of lead or soldered together with lead, which can leach into the water.
“However, new homes are also at risk: even legally ‘lead-free’ plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. “The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures, which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water, especially hot water.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are affordable and easy steps you can take to make your drinking water safe.
Run the tap. Especially if you have not used a faucet in more than six hours, run the tap until the water temperature gets as cold as possible. This flushes stale water from the pipes, according to the EPA.
Use cold water, not hot, for drinking, making baby formula and cooking. Cold tap water is less likely to contain dissolved lead. (It’s OK to heat up the cold tap water on the stovetop or in the microwave.)
Consider using a water filter. If you know there is lead in your water, you can buy water pitchers or faucet attachments with filters that remove lead.
Get enough iron, calcium and vitamin C. These three key nutrients may help protect against lead poisoning.
Adequate iron and calcium may block absorption of some lead, while getting enough vitamin C helps the kidneys get rid of lead through urine. That’s according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Good sources of iron include beef, chicken, tuna and other fish, clams, spinach, beans, lentils and fortified breads and breakfast cereals.
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so it’s useful to eat vitamin-C-rich foods at the same meal as iron-rich foods. Vitamin C isn’t just found in oranges and tomatoes. Sweet red and green peppers are very rich in vitamin C, as are papayas, peaches, cranberry juice, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collard greens, kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, mangos and more.
And while calcium is found in milk, yogurt and cheese, you also can find it in fortified cereals, kale, collard and turnip greens, spinach, black-eyed peas, and soy and other beans.
So consider eating well and testing your water for lead—protect yourself and your family from learning disabilities, high blood pressure, gout and other problems.
Jennifer Motl welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteat ing.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.